Games

Owlboy Review: A Heartfelt Tale

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 02/13/2018 - 17:00

By their very nature, retro-inspired games are fighting an uphill battle against the nostalgia they aim to invoke. How can they form their own identity when they're partly designed to make you remember other games? After finishing Owlboy, it seems D-Pad Studio might have the answer.

For almost a decade, Owlboy has lurked behind the curtain of mainstream releases with a small-but-devout following. Looking at screenshots and videos over the years, it was always apparent that Owlboy would look and sound great, but there's so much more to love about the final product: the humor, the varied cast, the disasters that befall its otherwise bright and uplifting world, and the incredible action set-pieces that punctuate the calm found elsewhere. It's not until you break through the surface that you're blinded by Owlboy's artistic brilliance and swayed by its heartfelt story.

It begins with Otus--our mute protagonist and the runt of his village--during a stressful dream where his professor and dark figments criticize his inadequacies and chastise his inability to speak. It's a powerful setup that endears our hero to you. Trouble brews shortly after he wakes up and concerns of pirate sightings explode into panic as a nearby metropolis comes under attack. Otus teams up with a military mechanic, Geddy, to put a stop to the pirates before their home is destroyed.

Owlboy is old-school, not just in its presentation, but also in its storytelling--there’s no voice acting, and events are set in stone with nary a major decision-making opportunity in sight. The plot manages to avoid predictability, however, not only through a handful of twists, but by allowing characters to evolve throughout the course of the game. Sad moments aren't swept under the rug by unreasonable optimism--they stay with your squad and fundamentally alter their outlook on the mission and their own identity in surprising ways. There's great attention to detail in the cast's animations, which are often tailored for a specific scene, as opposed to falling back on routine reactions. Coupled with a script that's rife with emotion and nuance, Owlboy's characters feel real in your heart despite their cartoonish look.

Owlboy tackles multiple artistic themes and subjects with consistently impressive execution.

It may be a throwback of sorts, but Owlboy's visuals aren't tailored to specifically ape 8- or 16-bit graphics; it doesn't have a limited color palette, and its pixel resolution changes based on the scene at hand. When you enter wide-open spaces, the camera zooms out, chunky details shrink, and meticulously designed structures and environments take shape. In tight spaces, you're brought closer into the scene for more intimate inspection. From subterranean creatures to ancient structures, Owlboy tackles several artistic themes and subjects with consistently impressive execution. And if you have a soft spot for 2D games with multiple layers of parallax scrolling--where the background moves slower than the foreground to simulate depth--you're in for a treat.

When you first take control of Otus, darting around floating islands and chatting with other creatures makes for a pleasant experience, and while the open air and bright colors deserve some credit, it's the orchestrated soundtrack that solidifies Owlboy's shifting atmosphere and tone. Violas and flutes instill merriment at first, but this innocence is short lived; when the pirates invade, oboes drone and cellos growl to the slow beat of a heavy drum. When the dust settles and the second half of your journey kicks off, sprightly piano compositions provide a much-needed respite from the stress of a society under attack.

Your trek to the pirate's den takes you through expansive spaces and into the heart of sprawling cave systems where buccaneers and wildlife alike lie in wait. They typically bombard you with rocks and other projectiles, rarely engaging in close-quarters combat. On his own, Otus can only dash into enemies, stunning them at best. However, with the help of a handy teleportation device, he can summon one of three partners into his claws mid-flight to utilize their long-range blaster, shotgun, or webbing that can ensnare enemies and be used as a grappling hook to escape dangerous situations.

Otus is unfortunately a tad slow by default, which causes you to spam his dash move repeatedly to keep things moving along outside of combat. There’s a modest upgrade system driven by collecting and turning in coins found in chests, but you're upgrading health reserves--in the form of soup canisters--and your team's weapons, not physical traits. Still, a keen eye and fast reflexes are more critical to success than any upgrades purchased during your adventure. Knowing that success comes from a show of skill rather than your ability to collect upgrades is gratifying, but you walk away from Owlboy with the sinking feeling that the equipment and upgrades in the game have unrealized potential.

Owlboy is consistently charming and surprising, and when its final act doubles down on every front, it's bittersweet to see it end.

Standard combat isn't anything special, but it never wears out its welcome thanks to deft pacing. Owlboy steadily mixes combat and exploration with measured stealth challenges, fast-paced escape sequences, and entertaining exchanges between characters. The chase/escape sequences in particular are some of the most impressive moments in the game, throwing you into a harrowing race against time in the face of tightly choreographed hazards. These scenes are challenging and filled with visual effects that add to the sense of danger, and they're overwhelming at first, but should you die, not to worry: Owlboy never truly punishes you for failure, allowing you to restart from the last room you entered.

Owlboy is consistently charming and surprising, and when its final act doubles down on every front, it's bittersweet to see it end. As you relish the outcome of the final battle and watch the closing cutscene, you can't help but reflect on the beginning of your adventure and how far the world and its inhabitants have come. You'll never be able to play Owlboy for the first time again, but the memories of its magic moments stick with you. This is more than a treat for fans of old-school games; Owlboy is a heartfelt experience that will touch anyone with an affinity for great art and storytelling.

Editor's note: After further testing, GameSpot has updated the score to reflect the Nintendo Switch version of Owlboy. - Feb. 13, 2018, 9:00 AM PT

Categories: Games

The Longest Five Minutes Review: The Power Of Memories

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 02/13/2018 - 17:00

The premise of The Longest Five Minutes is one that immediately grabs your attention. You’re thrust into the climactic final battle of an old-school Japanese RPG, only you--playing as the main hero--have been afflicted by the sort of amnesia that usually hits at the beginning of those games. You’ve forgotten everything: your name, where you are, who your companions are, and why you’re currently being stared down by a fierce demon lord. As a five-minute climactic battle with the final boss ensues, you must pause time and dive deep into your subconscious, rediscovering and reliving your memories to rekindle your fighting spirit. Because of this, the proposed five minutes extends to hours of gameplay outside of your main objective.

It’s an interesting concept that turns the normal flow of RPG final battles on its head, and made me eager to piece together a story built from fragmented memories presented in classic turn-based RPG style. After seeing the lively character sprite animations and silly dialogue, I was eager for a sendup of RPG conventions in the vein of the excellent Half-Minute Hero games. Sadly, The Longest Five Minutes never realizes its full potential.

When our hero, Flash, has an elaborate flashback, scenes from his past play out as typical moments from 8- or 16-bit JRPGs: exploring towns and dungeons, conversing with NPCs and party members, and fighting parties of low-level enemies. These flashbacks are somewhat non-linear, letting you piece together a story from the disjointed bits that the hero remembers.

While you can blow through and recover each disjointed memory by completing its central objectives, there are usually a few side quests you can also embark on. Completing these quests and fleshing out the memories yields rewards in the form of “re-experience points” that increase your power in the ongoing fight against the Demon King. And depending on the choices you make both in the memory sections and during your climactic fight, the story can follow one of a few different branches, resulting in multiple endings.

It’s intriguing to go back to events like the hero's first-ever date with a would-be love interest or the time when everyone faces their fears and decides to risk their lives by vowing to confront an otherworldly threat. Most of the time, however, you’re going to be stuck revisiting dungeons and completing fetch quests. That wouldn’t be so bad if your objectives were more surprising, but they tend to be bog-standard quests with bland dungeon design and simplistic puzzles. The optional side quests aren’t much better, ranging from lost-and-found errands to mini-games like a slot machine that will have completionists cursing.

One interesting side effect of the game’s disjointed nature is that every memory is essentially a self-contained adventure, making it quite easy to digest in small chunks. Even your money and items revert to presets every time you enter a memory, so there’s no need for time-consuming grinding or item/equipment management. This makes the game feel very breezy, and it’s possible to complete a single playthrough within eight to 12 hours, making it less of a serious time commitment than your typical RPG.

However, with items, equipment, and EXP never carrying over from memory to memory, exploring and fighting beyond what you're required to do feels completely unnecessary. Even if you acquire cool stuff in a dungeon or get a lot of money off of enemies, it’s all going to vanish pretty quickly. This, in turn, makes meandering through uninspired mazes and quashing foes in extremely simplistic turn-based combat (which you’ll auto-battle through 99% of the time) a hassle rather than an enjoyable challenge. At least the towns are fun to romp through, and some cute NPC and party member dialogue adds a lot of charm to the game. Ultimately, though, it feels like a there’s a good amount of unnecessary, laborious fluff despite The Longest Five Minutes being quite lean.

The concept of The Longest Five Minutes is undeniably intriguing, and its retro-styled visuals, quirky personalities and dialogue, and moments of inspired, emotional storytelling give it a lot of inherent charm. But charm can only go so far to make up for a game’s flaws, and far too often, The Longest Five Minutes falls victim to stereotypical old-school JRPG drudgery like endless random encounters and annoying dungeons--the exact sort of thing it wants to deconstruct. Though its ambition is admirable, it ultimately doesn’t live up to the promise of its clever premise.

Categories: Games

A New Tactical Take For The Franchise

Game Informer News Feed - Tue, 02/13/2018 - 15:17

Developer Sushee has announced that Fear Effect Sedna – an isometric action/strategy take on the PlayStation franchise – is coming on March 6 (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC), with the game's first trailer showing off Sedna's gameplay renaissance for the series.

Sedna brings together Hana, Rain, Glas, Deke, and new character Axel, and the coordination of this crew is the core of the title's gameplay. Players can pause the game in order to make sure everyone is in place to ensure maximum teamwork. "It's an approach that taps into the core structure of the original games," says Benjamin Anseaume, Sushee founder, "but with the technology available to us today, feels very 2018."

The game – which is co-written by original series' writer John Platten – centers around the team investigating Inuit mythology, and includes puzzle sequences as well as death cutscenes like the original games.

Sushee is also working on a remastered version of the original Fear Effect title, Fear Effect Reinvented, for the same slate of current platforms in 2018.

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Categories: Games

Crossing Souls Review: Stuck In The Past

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 02/13/2018 - 14:00

It's easy to let yourself be lured into the 1980s world of Crossing Souls. The striking, Saturday morning cartoon cinematics pull you into an equally enticing pixel-art world, where every little detail is likely something significant from your childhood, at least if you're over 30 years old. But while there is some satisfaction in the game's core action, the way it utilizes and adheres to its retro-pop influences ultimately detracts from it in the long run.

Taking its cues from films like The Goonies, Stand By Me, and The Neverending Story, Crossing Souls revolves around a group of five teenagers as they discover an ancient artifact with mystical properties. With some tinkering from the group's incomprehensibly brilliant genius, they learn that they can cross into the spiritual world and interact with ghosts. Naturally, their discovery draws the attention of a ruthless paramilitary organization who will stop at nothing to obtain the stone for their own nefarious purposes, including harming the children and their families.

You control all five kids, guiding them through an action-adventure analogous to 2D Zelda games, and regularly switch between them to take advantage of each kid's unique attack and traversal abilities. Main protagonist Chris is an athletic type who hits things with a baseball bat, aforementioned genius Matt has a deadly ray-gun because he's smart I guess, "Big" Joe's large frame means his punches pack immense damage, Charlie (Charlene) has a skipping rope that provides great crowd control, and Chris' kid-brother Kevin can pick his nose, and that's about it.

Each kid has separate health and stamina bars, but depleting the health of just one means game over. Combat is a juggling act where you might be using the kid whose attack is most suitable for the fight, but also tagging them out when they take too much of a beating or become exhausted. It's a system that's surprisingly involved; taking out a group of enemies with a character's melee combo is easy enough, but you can very quickly become overwhelmed after a couple of whiffed blows or ill-timed dodges. The skills and abilities you have at the beginning of the game are what will carry you all the way through to the end since Crossing Souls eschews ability and equipment upgrades. But although combat isn't particularly complex, most attacks have satisfying feedback which give fights an enjoyable heft, and encounters are challenging enough to continually keep you on your toes.

Crossing Souls also features some equally demanding environmental puzzles. While simpler variants involve throwing switches, finding keys, and using Big Joe to move boxes, there are also a significant amount of unexpectedly challenging platforming sections where you'll use Chris' unique ability to jump and climb in tandem with Matt's ability to hover for limited distances, and flip back and forth between the two in quick succession. You eventually also get the ability to cross into the spirit world to phase through doors (although not walls or traffic cones, strangely), which introduces another facet to puzzles. The game's character movement and perspective isn't an ideal fit for precision platforming, and some later challenges introduce some downright devious scenarios that verge on aggravating, but even so, completing these puzzles feel like well-earned achievements.

The game seeks to maintain a balance of difficulty which teeters on that precipice of engaging and downright frustrating. But it's a thin line, and there are a handful of significant sections that feel like they err too much on the wrong side. One particular sequence involves an extensive fetch quest that makes you ping-pong through numerous NPCs to move things along, and then asks you to make a seemingly straightforward deduction. But it felt as if a step was missing, something that could help you deduce the specific location to apply that information, and this completely curbed my enthusiasm until I brute-forced my way through it.

Some boss fights have an overly demanding onslaught of projectiles for you to dodge at length. They're shoot-'em-up-style patterns you need to internalize and anticipate with little room for error, and in these scenarios, throwing yourself at it again and again while learning a bit more each time is what will eventually get you through it. But while I personally enjoy these kinds of challenges, Crossing Souls isn't a game that's tuned for precise, repeated action. So hitting one of these particularly tough battles, failing it because you've been stun-locked by mortar fire, and then having to watch an introductory cutscene again and again is annoying enough to make you walk away.

Outside of regular combat and puzzle-solving, Crossing Souls also weaves in standalone minigame scenarios that are directly based on iconic 1980s film and video games. Sequences that echo Double Dragon, Raiden, and the bike chase in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial are fun diversions, but these examples represent the extent to which the game leverages its influences in a significantly positive way.

There is plenty to enjoy on a superficial level, of course; the impressive visual style, pixel art in a fashion that echoes The Secret of Monkey Island, is bursting with dozens of small visual references to entertainment products of the era. There are little nods to everything from Nintendo, to Die Hard, to The Land Before Time, to Stephen King, and more substantial set pieces that replicate moments from Stand By Me, Ghostbusters, and Metal Gear. Mousers from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon appear as late-game enemies, and more modern references from Breaking Bad, Grim Fandango, and Half-Life are also present, seemingly just for the hell of it. But Crossing Souls' fervent obsession with its source materials is ultimately its biggest hindrance.

1980s Spielberg adventures and coming-of-age films are the game's primary touchstones, and while the overarching supernatural adventure in Crossing Souls is uniquely interesting in concept, the character-level experience of it feels strangely empty. Though the story revolves around a group of kids going up against impossible odds, little time is spent exploring any individual child, or even their relationships with one another. You only get a broad outline, reliant on archetypes like the athletic white kid, the dweeby nerd, the fat kid, and the girl. There is no nuance in their personalities, so when a character has a sudden change of attitude, it feels like it comes entirely out of left field. When something utterly drastic happens, it doesn't really worry you. Though the story takes the stakes to some pretty wild extremes, Crossing Souls doesn't do enough to convince you that this band of kids actually cares enough to protect one another against the cartoonishly evil villains. The multiple antagonists are equally as shallow, with no real defining features aside from their ruthlessness; stereotypes are their primary traits.

In-depth character development supposedly takes a backseat to the density of nostalgic callbacks. An elongated sequence, mentioned earlier, is based on Back To The Future III and culminates in a Track & Field-style minigame to boost the speed of a DeLorean. But the entire section is inconsequential, having no real impact on any of the plot events that precede or follow it. And when you get a joke about the fat kid shitting his pants for the third time, you begin to wonder whether these spaces and lines of dialogue could have been better utilized.

Its strict adherence to familiar tropes also means that Crossing Souls adopts some of the more dubious traditions of 1980s pop cinema. An elderly, mystic Asian shopkeeper echoes the House of Evil shopkeeper in The Simpsons and Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China, but it's a caricature that comes off as crass and half-baked--the game can't even seem to decide whether he speaks fluent or broken English. This shopkeeper, along with Big Joe, his mother, and a Prince look-alike, are seemingly the only people of color in a Californian town filled with dozens of visible NPCs. There are jokes made at the expense of a community of rednecks, forever dumb and drunk. Charlie, who hails from this group, is abruptly reduced to a damsel and love interest despite being one of the more combat-useful characters with a fierce personality archetype. Replicating these familiar tropes and caricatures from 1980s cinema may serve as an homage, but they feel dated and detract from what could have been a more meaningful adventure.

Crossing Souls has the building blocks of a rousing '80s adventure. Experiencing the significant, pitch-perfect moments of the story is great, because it's hard not to get energized by a John Williams-esque score, or get a little sentimental as the credits roll over a feelgood synthpop track. But when you emerge from the nostalgia-induced stupor, it's hard to deny that the characters and plot that underpin it all could definitely be more substantial. Crossing Souls has good mechanics, and its facade is a visual treat that is easy to be seduced by, but it fails to achieve a level of holistic enjoyment that raises it past the giant pile of references.

Categories: Games

Dynasty Warriors 9 Review: Slice And Dice

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 02/13/2018 - 14:00

The story of Three Kingdoms-era China has been a mainstay of Dynasty Warriors since the days of the original PlayStation--and while it's gone through a number of iterations since then, Dynasty Warriors 9 represents the biggest shift away from the series' established formula since moving from a one-on-one fighting game to its more established musou form. While the feeling of cutting down entire formations of soldiers with a button press will feel more than familiar to fans of the series, the introduction of a massive open world changes the pacing in a way that allows the action to breathe. Although it suffers from a number of disappointing technical hitches and some typical open-world jank, Dynasty Warriors 9's sprawling campaign feels right at home in its new setting.

Given that the game's story mode is presented unconventionally, it can take a little while to figure out precisely what's going on. The entire story of the Three Kingdoms is told through the eyes of more than 80 separate playable characters from across four major clans--Wei, Wu, Shu, and Jin--as well as a handful of other smaller bit players. From the beginning, you're limited to a choice of three officers: Cao Cao, Sun Jian, and Liu Bei (the three lords of the Wei, Wu, and Shu clans, respectively).

Playing through each chapter unlocks the next one along with more characters, unfolding the differing perspectives of each clan throughout each battle in a way that's equal parts fascinating and frustrating. Seeing each battle from multiple perspectives is enthralling from a historical point of view--but it can mean playing through a lot of the same missions multiple times, which can be a little frustrating, given how similar each character feels on the battlefield. Thankfully, any powerful weapons, items, or horses that you acquire carries over across every mission, mitigating some of the grind.

Dynasty Warriors 9's open world is the big game-changer here, and it works to the game's advantage in many ways. This time, missions are picked up from non-player characters out in the world, and among the different cities that dot the landscape. Although the old menu-based quest option is still there if you want to merely move from mission to mission, traveling from one area to another gives you chances to find peaceful moments between each battle.

Your actions in the open world are also tied closely to each main quest. Completing sub-quests lowers the recommended character level for the main quest--so if you find a mission too difficult, you can polish off a few sub-quests to make it easier. Ditto for taking down squadrons on the open-world battlefield, which changes the frontlines and gives your clan the numerical advantage for next main mission. And while it's satisfying to watch this play out, it only felt essential when playing on the highest of the game's five difficulty levels, as combat generally feels weighted in your favor.

If you make your way off-road when moving towards the frontlines, the chances are good that you'll find a dangerous group of bandits to take down, or a pack of wild deer or tigers to hunt. Although many of the optional open-world activities--like hunting and fishing (of course there's fishing)--aren't especially inspiring in themselves, they net you ingredients which you can use to buff your attack or defense stats through cooking at a Teahouse. You can also earn special items from the Dilettante who deals in hunted goods, or trade in various different currencies earned from defeating enemies at the Coin Collector, who will trade you for scrolls (which are effectively blueprints required for crafting weapons and items from raw materials collected out in the world).

The world is massive, and in its own way quite pretty; its sparsity reflects the period, and the vast and varied environments flow seamlessly into one another. It’s serene in the way that a horseback ride through nature should be. The day/night and full weather cycles aren't just visual changes, but also affect the action: Soldiers won't march at nighttime, and bad weather slows them down. But overall, it also just looks plain grimy at times--many of the game's textures appear as though they've been lathered in thick coats of Vaseline. Cities and palaces suffer from this the most, as their elaborate architecture often fails to load with high-resolution textures at first, leaving them looking like big brown lumps in the world instead of beautiful, ancient Chinese palaces. At worst, full bases will phase into view a few moments after being loaded in to the world, but thankfully this is reasonably rare.

Aside from the randomly appearing geometry, Dynasty Warriors 9's graphical shortcomings are perhaps most noticeable in the character costumes. While character models and costume designs themselves are absolutely stunning, the textures within them lack the sort of clarity needed to work up-close. This, combined with rough animations and some truly abysmal English voice work--make sure you switch to the Chinese voice-over immediately--make the story cutscenes a little rough to look at, given the frequency with which they're shown.

Cutting down hundreds of enemies in a single sitting feels as satisfying as ever.

On the PlayStation 4 Pro, you're given a choice of two graphics options that focus on either stabilizing resolution or frame rate. Leaning toward the resolution option is meant to lock the game down to 30 frames per second at a higher resolution... but it struggles to stay anywhere near that, and looks arguably worse than when running the frame-rate-preferred option, which dials down the resolution in favor of trying to hit a consistent 60fps. And while it barely retains said consistency (especially during character-heavy battle moments), it's a far better experience overall.

If Dynasty Warriors is known for anything, its throwing huge numbers of enemies at you to cut through like a hot knife through butter, and Dynasty Warriors 9 is no different. Given the game's technical issues, it's a good thing that cutting down hundreds of enemies in a single sitting feels as satisfying as ever; entire squadrons can be laid to waste in mere moments. It's truly an epic power fantasy that, even after 50 hours of gameplay, continues to thrill. The soundtrack shifts from a softer, more traditional sound to crunching drums and wailing guitars, giving it a pure action game feel. Admittedly, the horseback combat doesn't feel all that great (mostly thanks to the horse lacking any subtlety in its movements), and using the bow can be underwhelming--but the melee combat remains the biggest draw, and the series' strongest pillar. It lacks nuance in some of the later one-on-one boss battles, but nine times out of 10, you'll come out of a battle with a smile on your face.

It's clear that Koei Tecmo and Omega Force have gone back to the drawing board with Dynasty Warriors 9, and in many ways, it's a big improvement. The new open-world format changes up the game in a way that helps the flow and pacing of its story mode, as well as its core mechanics. Despite the obvious graphical flaws and some issues with combat lacking finer controls, the streamlined menus, open world atmosphere, and laughably fun moment-to-moment play makes Dynasty Warriors 9 not just a must for fans, but worth a look for the merely curious.

Categories: Games

Hear A Snippet Of The Theme In English And Japanese

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 18:31

Alongside a new trailer showing off the new Monsters Inc. world in Kingdom Hearts, Disney and Square Enix showed off a pair of trailers showcasing the game's theme song, "Don't Think Twice," in English and one in Japanese, both by Utada Hikaru.

You can find both versions below, which don't include the full song but offer a taste. Additionally, the trailers show Mickey and Riku's look in III in their full glory.

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Categories: Games

D23 Trailer Reveals Monsters Inc. Setting

Game Informer News Feed - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 17:45

At this year's D23 expo, Disney and Square Enix showed off a new trailer for Kindgom Hearts III, revealing another Pixar-based setting: Monsters Inc.

The has a brief interaction between Marluxia and Sora, the latter of which seems to have no recollection of having met the former before. Next we see monster-ized Sora, Donald, and Goofy meet Sully, Mike, and Boo. We then see snippets of gameplay within the world of Monsters Inc. Check out the trailer below.

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Radiant Historia Perfect Chronology Review: Time After Time After Time

Gamespot News Feed - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 16:00

Of the many story-driven games that feature user-dictated time travel, Radiant Historia ranks high. This RPG treats altering events as essential to its story, forcing you to regularly jump back and forth between two streams of time. The impetus for this temporal weaving is so well ingrained into its narrative that it subverts any question of gimmickry. This engaging mechanic also complements Historia's traditional RPG gameplay of pursuing quests, surviving turn-based battles, and exploring a vast landscape. Originally released in 2010 on the Nintendo DS, Radiant Historia gets a welcomed re-release on the 3DS, and is an enhanced port in every sense of the term.

An Atlus RPG not associated with Shin Mega Tensei or Etrian Odyssey, Radiant Historia is based in its own original world with a built-in history. In fact, you start the game in what appears to be the twilight of the continent of Vainqueur--the game's setting--as its being slowly devastated by an unexplained "desertification". Sand isn't only consuming the land but also living beings as well. The kingdom of Alistel blames neighboring Granorg for this plague, inflaming a conflict between these warring lands.

You initially play as Stocke, an Alistelian agent assigned to escort a spy back to your capital. Though a series of events lead to the downfall of Stocke, two subordinates, and even the spy, our hero gets a supernatural reprieve. Finding himself in another realm, Stocke learns that the White Chronicle--a book given to him by his superior, Heiss--has the power to transport the user to key events in the past thereby giving you the ability to alter these moments. Using this tome to revive Stocke and his companions to further the interests of Alistel is only part of the story. Key characters like Heiss are aware of the White Chronicle and figuring out their motives is part of the narrative's draw.

Once empowered with time travel, you're presented with turning points and key branching paths on a regular basis. This system is at its most appealing when you're faced with a barrier--literal or otherwise--and trying to find the key event in the past that lets you bypass that hurdle. There are two distinct timelines and often the solution to advancing in one involves making progress in the other. Mentally arriving at some fixes can be a nuanced process, compelling you to retrace story events and figure out where an action or choice can create a new outcome.

As you overcome roadblocks and jump to the other timeline to surmount those obstacles, you'll come across optional opportunities to change the fate of others. Provided you have a keen eye to read your surroundings, using the White Chronicle can affect the environment and the nearby characters who might otherwise perish if you didn't get involved. Even after having the satisfaction of saving a life, there's an alluring sense of mystery in whether rescuing someone will ultimately lead to a positive or negative result further down the line.

The beauty of these diversions is that they don't feel like optional objectives in the traditional sense. The feeling of accomplishment in attending to the needs of others is often as gratifying as reaching a milestone in the main story. And since the White Chronicle timeline diagram is well-laid out with nodes denoting fail states, open story paths, and side routes, there's a strong compulsion to see every result as soon as you spot the clues leading to those endings. The satisfaction of filling in the White Chronicle isn't unlike finding all the dead ends in a dungeon before venturing forward on the presumptive main path. With 283 nodes to discover, Radiant Historia Perfect Chronicle is that rare breed of RPG where the drive to find minor and bad conclusions is as strong as reaching the main "good" ending.

Venturing out of the capital of Alistel to accomplish your missions will bring you face-to-face with all manner of hostile creatures and soldiers from Grenorg. These battles--triggered by making contact with enemies visible in the field--unfold in classic turn-based fashion. Facing off against foes who are laid out in a three-by-three grid presents its share of strategies. One of the most useful battle skills allows you to knock your target into another enemy-occupied space, either one space back or to the sides. With the right planning, a follow-up attack can deal shared damage to those crowded square in a single blow. There's further combat depth since you're also offered the option of swapping turns with other teammates. These opportunities deliver a puzzle-like sense of strategy, which make victories feel rewarding.

It's a battle system that feels both traditional and brain-teasingly fresh and it would've been superb if not for its quality-of-life shortcomings. For instance, if your threesome targets a single enemy and it's vanquished before all your team's turns are used up, remaining attacks will not defer to the other opponents. This results in wasted turns, which is all the more frustrating when party members in your reserves swoop in randomly to offer a one-off support action. This well-intentioned perk is appreciated when a teammate heals or buffs, but not when he's attacking a monster the active party is already cued up to attack. And if you hope to avoid excess grinding, think again; the advanced difficulty of the combat discourages trying out new characters as active teammates in battle, given their relatively low starting levels.

The improvements in Perfect Chronology over the original DS version range from minor to significant. The changes in 2D art character designs isn't an upgrade so much as it feels like Atlus trading the works of one talented artist for another. More clear cut production enhancements like new voiceovers, a retooled soundtrack, and a new anime-styled opening music video adds freshness to this game, but Perfect Chronology's more substantial upgrades are found in its new modes. A bonus dungeon called the Vault of Time provides opportunities to fight more monsters for a chance at exclusive items like support skills, which often prove useful in the main story. The difficulty of the vault increases with each subsequent floor and the stakes are heightened by the inability to use items.

The boldest new feature by far is the addition of a third stream of time. Given the tight woven relationship of the two other timelines, this third path--dubbed 'Sub-History'--unsurprisingly doesn't affect the original game's story or outcomes. Rather, it presents a host of what-if adventure scenarios where Stocke interacts with familiar friends and enemies, some whom behave out of character. It offers a look into the world and inhabitants of Vainqueur that manages to be insightful even if it's non-canonical.

With all the time juggling, the brain-teasing mechanic of the White Chronicle doesn't overshadow Radiant Historia Perfect Chronology's story. Its politically charged tale complements Stocke's personal journey as he follows his orders and makes sense of his powers. The White Chronicles' close connection to the plot only makes temporal manipulation all the more engrossing, regardless if you're working your way to the game's best conclusion or hitting every node in the timeline. This feature maintains its grip for much of the game's 60-hour journey in spite of its combat shortcomings. Had this been a straight port of the DS version, it would still warrant the attention of RPG enthusiasts who missed Radiant Historia the first time around. With its upgrades and considerable bonuses--particularly the Sub-History--even those who think they got their fill by beating the original game should check out this definitive edition.

Categories: Games

The Skull-Themed Phantom Thief Controls The Dance Floor In A New Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 02/09/2018 - 23:29

In a partner piece to the Persona 3 Dancing Moon Night trailer starring Yukari, another new trailer starring the blabbiest Phantom Thief, Ryuji, also came out.

In this trailer, Ryuji shows off his dance moves and a host of skins, including a dance outfit, his track outfit, and what appears to be some kind of butler costume. Ryuji is then joined by Yusuke and the two pair off for a dual dance, which Atlus is emphasizing in the new game over anything similar to Persona 4 Dancing All Night's story mode.

When Ryuji isn't busy announcing he's a Phantom Thief to anyone who might be listening, he was clearly practicing his dancing skills. Check out the trailer below.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

Both  Persona 5 Dancing Star Night and Persona 3 Dancing Moon Night are scheduled to release in May in Japan with no word on a western release yet. Both games are releasing on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.

Categories: Games

Yukari Shows Her Moves In The New Trailer

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 02/09/2018 - 22:51

In a new trailer for Persona 3 Dancing Moon Night, dormmate Yukari shows off her dance moves, with a little help from Communicator Fuuka.

You can check out the newest Persona 3 DMN character trailer below, which also has a Hideki Naganuma remix of one of Persona 3's main themes as its background music. It shows off Yukari dancing to the music and showing off a dancer costume, her usual pink Iwatodai Persona 3 outfit, and a cheerleader outfit.

She eventually gets joined by Fuuka and the two briefly dance together, the kind of character interaction Atlus has said would be the focus of the game this time around.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

Both Persona 3 Dancing Moon Night and Persona 5 Dancing Star Night are scheduled to release in May in Japan with no word on a western release yet. Both games are releasing on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.

Categories: Games

One Piece's Next Open World Adventure Gets New Screenshots

Game Informer News Feed - Fri, 02/09/2018 - 18:22

One Piece: World Seeker, an upcoming open world game from Bandai Namco, has a new batch of screenshots.

We still don't have many details on the game other than the fact that players will get to play as Luffy, use his gum-gum abilities as weapons and as a way to traverse the world, and explore an open world filled with castles, cities, farms, beaches, and more. 

One Piece: World seeker is coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One sometime in 2018. To check out the last round of screenshots, you can find them here. For more on the on the game itself, head here.

Categories: Games

Dragon Quest Builders Review: Working The Land

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 19:00

Dragon Quest Builders serves as the jumping-off point for a new tale in a new period using an old setting--the storied land of Alefgard from the first Dragon Quest. It's an alternate reality that begins where the original game ends, but with a twist: the hero from the first game didn't defeat the Dragonlord. No prior knowledge of the series is required, but having a familiarity with the its jingles and diverse bestiary helps to invoke a strong sense of nostalgia

Given that the world-crafting genre is uncharted territory for Dragon Quest, Square Enix was wise to make the tutorial equal parts concise and informative. This allows you to start building within minutes of launching the game, and it's satisfying to get the hang of building complete houses, crafting items, and surviving the Alefgardian wilderness. A seemingly menial task like bricklaying is made easy when it only takes one button to set the brick above, below, or at head level. Moreover, the process of upgrading a wall with higher-quality bricks works in one convenient, single-input motion.

It's almost as easy as adapting to Dragon Quest Builders' combat, which isn't as frenetic as fighting in Dragon Quest Heroes--but it moves more quickly than the main series' turn-based battles. This orientation period also showcases the game's heavy emphasis on RPG-inspired questing. Building a bathhouse feels less like a chore when there's a checkmark, a congratulatory jingle, and a grateful NPC who has a reward for you.

Supporting Dragon Quest Builders' story and its objective-intensive draw is a foundation built on 30 years of franchise nostalgia. No, you can't explore settings in later mainstream installments like Zenithia (seen in Dragon Quest IV, V, and VI) or Dragon Quest VIII’s Trodain. Still, coming across familiar monsters, such as metal slimes, and well-known items like chimaera wings, will make any Dragon Quest fan smile. It's surprising how well all these elements--running the gamut from the music to the bestiary--have been adapted to this malleable world. Enemies drop crafting ingredients rather than experience. Energy from digging is replenished by eating food. The overworld, as revealed by the camera positioned way up high, won't show the original 1986 map, but the blocky art style will resonate with old-school JRPG enthusiasts.

It's not Alefgard as we've known it, but it's no less inviting--thanks to the familiar aesthetics and the classic low-level enemies who litter the land near your town. Exploring simply for the sake of it isn't time wasted here. Going off in one direction can yield a wealth of resources for crafting items. The only variable that would devalue any free-roaming excursion is when you’ve maxed out your capacity for an item type--a tough task, since you can carry 99 of something.

Even though the world’s terrain is open to manipulation, the maps remain faithful to classic JRPG world design. For example, the farther you venture from civilization, the more likely you'll run into tougher enemies. The journey to a quest destination is seldom a straight line, as Alefgard presents myriad distractions, often with worthwhile rewards. The forests, deserts, and towers have their share of obscured secrets--the kind you often reveal by swiveling the camera. It's doubly rewarding when using visual clues to hunt for treasure underground and inside mountains. A missing block or a brick that looks out of place can be a hint to a nearby prize, such as a useful set of 25 windows for your future buildings.

Advance through the story enough, and all manner of slime and golem will turn the tables and perform a siege operation against your town. You and your comrades work to protect all four sides of your base while you reinforce the perimeter with barriers and automated fire-breathing gargoyle statues. In other words, Dragon Quest Builders plays like a tower defense game at times, putting a delightful twist on the popular genre. You're defending a square area rather than a winding route, and not all of your support options are stationary; this only enhances the diversity of activities in a game that throws plenty of goals at you.

Invasions can do significant damage to your towns, and even if the resources to rebuild are plentiful, repairing your inns and workhouses can be time-consuming; but you can avoid this process altogether if you wish. Dragon Quest Builders' Free-Play mode saves you the grief of hostile monsters and offers more peaceful islands where you can get your architectural juices flowing.

Dragon Quest Builders is full of opportunities to take breaks from questing and defending your town. The franchise's endearing aesthetic, defined by Akira Toriyama's character designs, can make the simple process of building and designing rooms around town fly by. To customize an inn, you need simply place a torch, and get to work laying out beds and other furniture as you wish. Although you can share your personalized building creations, it’s not possible to visit your friends’ worlds. It's also disappointing that there's no cross-save support between the PS4 and Vita versions, despite the fact that they feature the same content.

The excellence of Dragon Quest Builders illustrates the versatility of this 30-year-old franchise as much as it speaks to the engrossing appeal of Minecraft-inspired creation. The story-advancing draw of quests goes hand-in-hand with the depth of a crafting system that cleverly uses monster drops as some of the game's building tools. Whether you want to focus on completing assignments or build with no specific purpose, the game is feature-rich enough to suck up untold hours, even if this happens to be your first Dragon Quest experience.

Editor's note: Dragon Quest Builders' re-release on the Nintendo Switch proves to be a splendid fit for the hybrid console. Its downgrade to 720p on the Switch is negligible when the framerate is smooth and comparable to the other platforms. The Dragon Quest series' loveable art style, anchored by Akira Toriyama's character designs has never veered toward hyper-realism, which is why this port's visuals easily flourishes even at lower resolutions. And whatever your preferred Switch control and viewing setup, navigating your industrious hero and crafting complex structures becomes intuitive over time.

The Switch-exclusive features--limited to the free-building non-story mode--adds another layer of endearment to a game already brimming with charm. You're now paired with a Great Sabrecub who--despite its preciously compact size--is mountable for swift traversal across your custom maps. This feline who first appeared in Dragon Quest V isn't the only new throwback, though. Free-building also features retro customization options, allowing you to make 2D landscapes in the style of the original Dragon Quest. It's the type of well-designed fan service that will bring smiles to the faces of fans of the franchise.

The flexibility to mold the land and vanquish endearing monsters on a large screen and on the go offers a welcome level of convenience the PlayStation versions lacked. While this is obviously a benefit of all Switch games, the involving nature of Dragon Quest Builders, particularly the sense of player ownership in carving the land to your liking makes this game a strong match for the Nintendo platform. - Feb. 7, 2018, 11:00 AM PT

Categories: Games

Dandara Review: Off The Wall

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 17:00

Dandara defies its platforming heritage by subverting two ubiquitous ideas: jumping and running. Neither is present in the traditional sense within this surreal, Metroid-inspired adventure. Rather, the heroic Dandara slings herself to any wall, ceiling, or floor she fancies, thumbing her nose at gravitational forces that would dare stifle her kinetic charm. This spin on standard movement sets Dandara apart, making it feel different from every other exploration-heavy platformer. When you’re zipping carefree through its labyrinthine world, Dandara is a complete joy, but control hiccups and a story that’s too vague for its own good often undermine its unique charm.

Although Dandara is based on a Brazilian figure who helped lead a slave revolt in the late 1600s, you wouldn’t know it based only on the game's surreal tale. The story is one of oppression told through vague metaphors about a broken world whose currency, salt, is in short supply. The sporadic conversations Dandara has with the trapped inhabitants does little to inject the world with any sense of humanity. The story is simply too abstract to create the lasting bonds that could have propelled Dandara forward with a real sense of purpose.

Thankfully, the imaginative action sequences grab hold of your attention in ways the story cannot. Dandara doesn’t walk. Instead, she leaps to designated spots that dot the walls, floors, and ceilings. Aiming the analog stick in a given direction shows where Dandara will land, and though her reach is limited, you can quickly bounce between surfaces to dance past enemies or arrive at a nearby treasure chest that's waiting to be opened.

This simple action is the basis on which the entire adventure is built. Because Dandara’s leaps have limited range and you can only latch on to certain places, navigating each room becomes a small puzzle as you decipher how best to reach the next area. In some places, there are rotating blocks or gliding platforms that Dandara can control by firing a burst of energy from her palms, while other rooms have tracking lasers that demand a frantic pace lest you wind up dead. There’s a great variety in what each section demands, ensuring you don’t fall into a dull routine of simply looking for the white spots along the walls without any deeper thought.

Of course, Dandara can do more than just leap to any surface. She has a projectile weapon at the ready, one that’s slow-acting so you can’t just spam your foes. It takes a second or two to charge so you have to plan your assault--if you don’t, a wayward projectile could smack you while you’re gearing up for a strike. This smart system means that even though you always have the ability to fight, it’s often better to avoid confrontations rather than risk taking damage. Eventually, Dandara does acquire new projectiles that can be unleashed instantaneously, but these are limited by an energy bar. Because every attack has an obvious downside, mastery of movement is ultimately the key to staying alive.

However, mastering movement is no easy task. Even though I spent more than 10 hours exploring this world, I never felt completely in control. The line that sprouts from Dandara to show where you’re going to land can be fiddly. Too often I had to adjust and then readjust my aim because it would auto-aim to a specific spot that I didn’t want to be on. And though that wasn’t much of a problem, quickly bounding across a hazard-strewn section was way trickier than I would have liked. Precision felt like it came at the cost of speed, so I would get smacked around by enemies as I tried valiantly to make my way to a safe area.

There’s one section late in the game that should have been the exhilarating climax everything had been building toward. It has narrow walls and five different types of enemies preventing any chance of reprieve. I was all set to show off my jaw-dropping movement abilities and dispatch the enemy swarm with the style I had learned during my hours with the game. But the reality of the situation was that instead of evading the homing missiles barreling toward me, I would accidentally fly directly into them. The same clumsiness persisted as I tried to time my leaps to counter an enemy flipping between the floor and ceiling. Because I had so much health by this point, I was able to progress with little more than a bruised ego, but it was an ugly victory. That moment in platformers where you show off all that you learned is one of the reasons I love the genre. Moving so awkwardly even as I reached Dandara’s end was a bummer.

It’s a shame that the control can be a little tricky, because Dandara is an utter delight when things really click. There’s a boss fight early on where you chase an enemy through the nothingness of space. Platforms appear out of thin air as you hunt him, and you have to bounce across the broken landscape while dodging projectiles and spawning enemies to get close enough to land a counter attack. When I finally vanquished my opponent, I felt like taking a bow. The speed and precision required pushed me to my limits, and though I died a dozen or so times, it was a serious rush when everything coalesced into a beautiful dance. But Dandara doesn’t often reach those heights. Later scenarios require even more speed and precision than that early boss fight, and because there’s a slight auto aim on your jumping point, I often felt bit out of control as I zipped around.

If you play on the PC, you do have the option of using a mouse, but it’s a little cumbersome. Although it’s slightly easier to aim for a specific spot, it’s much slower, and areas where you have to quickly bounce from one place to the next, avoiding traps on the ground while dodging projectiles from angry enemies, are tougher without a controller. No matter which control method you choose, though, Dandara is forgiving enough that I never got angry. Frequent checkpoints mean you’re rarely more than 30 seconds from where you last died, and Dandara has plenty of health to help her withstand a few stray attacks.

The level design is another strong point. The world rotates as you turn ceilings and walls into floors, making you put a little thought into figuring out which way is up. But even as everything flips and twist around you, it’s still clear where you need to go next. There are only so many unexplored paths at a given time, so a quick peek at the map should be enough to get you moving to your goal. And as you explore, there are plenty of fascinating sights to behold. The most impressive comes late in the game in a nightmare world where swirling vortexes dot the foreground while mystical islands drift behind you. It’s a stunning area that made me pause to take it all in. The same mesmerizing feeling came from the enchanting music. Even though the story comes up short, the visuals and music really transport you to an imaginative world just begging to be discovered.

Careful explorers are rewarded with bonuses that help against the tougher boss fights. Dandara can use the salt she collects from defeated enemies and treasure chests to boost her abilities. Although you don’t need to upgrade often during the early going, as you earn more and more salt toward the end of the game, and the bosses get harder and harder, you really need the extra burst of health and energy these upgrades provide. But, more importantly, it’s just fun figuring out how to reach every hidden room and unlock every treasure chest. Even when a chest doesn't yield a particularly valuable reward, simply solving a tricky puzzle to get the chest is satisfying on its own.

There have been so many Metroid-inspired games that it’s almost impossible to stand out. Dandara’s unique movement abilities ensure it’s at least significantly different from its peers. But the same reason that Dandara is so unique is also its biggest setback. The sense of mastery never quite comes, resulting in a game that flashes its potential in one scene only to undermine that thrill soon afterward. Even with its occasional stumbles, though, Dandara offers enough excitement and beauty to push you onward.

Categories: Games

Former S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Devs Reveal New Battle-Royale Shooter

Game Informer News Feed - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 16:25

Considering the wild success that PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds has had, it's only natural that other developers would explore the growing battle-royale shooter. The newly announced Fear the Wolves embraces the main element of the genre – 100-player scrambles to be the last player remaining – while bringing a pedigree and some twists that make it stand out.

The game is being developed by Vostok Games, which was founded by former members of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. team. Like that series, the irradiated ruins of Chernobyl features prominently in Fear the Wolves. Players have to contend with environmental hazards such as radiation and dynamic weather conditions, in addition to their fellow players and threats from the area's mutated creatures.

Fear the Wolves is coming to PC and consoles later this year.

Categories: Games

Civilization 6: Rise And Fall Review: A New Age

Gamespot News Feed - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 15:00

Civilization VI stands out as the deepest and richest base game in the series, with smart additions and changes that refine its already great strategy gameplay. With that, however, comes the challenge of adding new content to improve upon what's already there without bloating it. Civ VI's first expansion, Rise and Fall, strikes a remarkable balance between the two, with several key features that both complement and change up the base game.

The big-picture addition and namesake of Rise and Fall is the Ages system, which coincides with each of the existing technological eras--Ancient, Classical, etc.--but is based on a global average rather than individual progress through the tech tree. As the world collectively transitions from one era to the next, each civilization accumulates a score toward the next era's "Age." Depending on your progress during the previous era, you can enter a Normal Age, fall into a Dark Age, or rise into a Golden Age. While Golden Ages obviously carry the most benefits, Dark Ages have unique bonuses of their own, and if you pull yourself out of a Dark Age and into a Golden one, it'll be even stronger. These so-called Heroic Ages are a powerful weapon later in the game if you've fallen behind and are struggling to catch up.

The Ages system works brilliantly with Civ VI's emphasis on careful planning and building a well-rounded civilization regardless of the victory condition you're working towards. A wide variety of accomplishments contribute to your score, from clearing Barbarian outposts and building Wonders to being the first civilization with a complex form of government. If you lean too heavily into one specialization, like science, you'll have trouble earning enough points in any given era to escape a Dark Age and its pitfalls. So even if you're two eras ahead of everyone else in your own tech tree, you're still susceptible to falling into a Dark Age if you fail to do anything else of note. As a result, a strong start isn't enough to carry you through Rise and Fall, even on lower difficulties--you need to work proactively and adapt your strategies at every step if you want to rule the world.

Building off the base game, monitoring each city's individual growth is paramount. In vanilla Civ VI, cities have individual happiness meters instead of civilization-wide ones, and greater depth to city development forces you pay close attention to each city and its unique contributions to your empire. Rise and Fall adds two big features that affect cities specifically: Loyalty and Governors, which work in tandem to add depth to city management without overcomplicating it.

Loyalty is a metric of each city's dedication to your leadership and is added on top of happiness to the list of city stats you need to care about. Loyalty suffers in Dark Ages and flourishes in Golden ones; if it falls too low, your city will be less productive and eventually revolt, becoming a "free city" open to the sway of other civs. You can affect Loyalty through proximity--a city on the edge of your borders will be vulnerable to the charms of a nearby foreign city and vice versa--city projects, espionage, and more. Colonizing a separate continent requires more of a cost-benefit analysis than ever, as the danger of low Loyalty can outweigh the advantages of settling new regions. But you can also disrupt an opponent's Loyalty for your own gain, including the city itself (without suffering a Warmonger penalty).

Keeping your Loyalty high is more passive than it sounds thanks to various Loyalty-boosting improvements as well as Governors, new characters that you can gradually unlock and station in your cities. In addition to increasing Loyalty, each of the seven Governors has a different specialization (commerce, war, science, and so on) and can be leveled up to provide various benefits to the city they govern. They can be reassigned at any time, too, so you're not locked into one city being all culture-focused until the end of time. Most importantly, Governors are a further incentive to invest in each of your cities and consequently develop a more balanced civilization--not just one that can crank out science points until you win the space race in the 1800s.

Rise and Fall brings with it a series of smaller tweaks to round out the big additions. You can now form different kinds of alliances with other civs, like economic or military ones, so you can trade comfortably without going to war; there are also "Emergencies," triggered by things like taking over city-states and dropping nukes, during which civs can band together to address the threats and reap the benefits if they succeed. On top of that, there are new policies and small changes to the highly customizable government system, which means more options to tailor your government to your playstyle as it develops.

Of course, there are also new civs and leaders, which range from the battle-ready Genghis Khan of Mongolia to the science-minded Seondeok of Korea. There are nine new leaders but eight new civilizations; Chandragupta has been added as an alternative to Gandhi in India. The new civs aren't so much groundbreaking as they are a nice change of pace for Civ VI veterans who are eager to try out something new.

Unfortunately, Rise and Fall doesn't appear to improve the AI inconsistencies present in vanilla Civ VI. Some AI-controlled civs still act almost randomly--Japan declared war on me twice in one game despite never sending its military my way--while others are a bit more clever, declaring preemptive wars or offering strategic trades at opportune times. And while the Loyalty and Governors systems enhance city management and encourage you to pursue a wider variety of specialties than just your intended victory condition, religion remains the least dynamic of the avenues without anything in Rise and Fall drastically changing it.

As Civ VI's first expansion, though, Rise and Fall works so well with the base game that lingering issues are minor. It enhances, rather than overcomplicates, systems that were already deep and layered to begin with, while introducing features that keep each game engaging from start to finish. Ages in particular provide room for struggling civs to climb the ranks in the late game and keep leading civs on their toes, and the Governor and Loyalty systems add to the city-specific strategies that helped make the base game great.

Categories: Games

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT Review: A Messy Mashup

Gamespot News Feed - Tue, 02/06/2018 - 20:07

Moving away from its role-playing game foundations, the original Dissidia Final Fantasy traded turn-based battles for real-time action duels. Featuring an all-star cast from the franchise, it told an original story that celebrated the series' diverse incarnations--while also presenting an odd yet satisfying approach to character action. After the release of the 2015 arcade follow-up, Square-Enix and developer Team Ninja have brought the 3v3 multiplayer fighter to the PS4. But in aiming for a more competitive focus--along with some half-hearted offerings for solo content--Dissidia Final Fantasy NT loses sight of what makes the Final Fantasy series so memorable, resulting in a hollow journey through a franchise's storied history.

Set long after the original Dissidia titles, and just before the arcade edition, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT takes many liberties with the franchise's array of stories to offer context as to why the many fighters are embroiled in an eternal battle. When warring gods Materia and Spritius call-forth the heroes and villains to engage in a new fight for the fate of their collective universes, the warriors soon realize that there is a greater threat lurking in the background--forcing rivals to set aside their differences to take on the encroaching menace.

Much like its predecessors, Dissidia NT is very much a celebration of the Final Fantasy mythos. Set across different locales from the series' past--including Final Fantasy I's Cornelia and FFVII's Midgar--several of the stages recreate the same style and tone found from their respective titles. The visuals on display are vibrant and detailed--allowing fans to see their favorite characters and their ornate outfits with modern graphics. Along with the return of iconic musical themes and other references to past titles--including the appearance of the tutorial Moogle who continues to overstay his welcome--the brawler pays great attention to creating a mashup of the most iconic elements from 30-years worth of noteworthy games.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT's story campaign makes attempts to justify the backdrop of its chaotic slugfest, while offering some moments of fan-service. Taking control of several heroes from the Final Fantasy series, they'll fight against their own rivals and corrupted copies of other characters as they come to grips with the reality of the present battle. While the many cutscenes throughout are charming, the story as a whole feels undercooked, even disregarding some of the newcomers to the roster.

This is made worse by some rather odd choices in how you go about experiencing the narrative. Story progression uses a node-based system, with cutscenes and key battles costing Memoria to unlock. After exhausting your Memoria, you'll have to dive back into other gameplay modes such as the Gauntlet mode to grind experience and earn more tokens for the campaign. This ultimately makes the campaign a fragmented experience that you can't go through at your own pace, weakening the impact of the story's more meaningful encounters, which build up dramatic fights that you've already experienced several times over in other modes.

To switch things up during the story, your party will take part in boss battles against several of the game's summoned monsters. Pitting your team of three against large-scale foes that can use several arena-filling attacks and super moves is certainly a step up from the usual fights throughout the campaign. But while the scale of these fights are impressive, and the game's visual luster shines throughout, these battles also present massive difficulty spikes in the campaign. What's apparent during these encounters is that Dissidia's multiplayer-tuned mechanics and movement seem ill-equipped to handle the large attacks and movement patterns these bosses wield. Given that they are capable of wiping out your party in single moves with ease, these large battles feel more like clumsy exercises in trial-and error--and luck--rather than a culmination of your skill.

Spiritus and his warriors ready for battle.

With a roster of well over 20 characters--including familiar faces such as the brooding loner types Cloud Strife and Squall Leonhart, along with newcomers Ramza Beoulve and Noctis Lucis Caelum from Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XV respectively--there's an impressive set of brawlers to choose from, each with their own unique playstyles. These characters adopt one of four classes, ranging from the heavy hitting Vanguard to the agile Assassin, the zoning Marksman, and the versatile Specialist--with their varied movesets bringing strategy to Dissidia's fast-paced combat system.

The battle system in Dissidia NT is largely as it was in the previous titles, save for the removal of character-unique super moves and the new focus on team-battles. Dissidia will force you into split-second decisions to make your hits count. By building up attack power with non-lethal Brave attacks--draining your opponent's power in the process--you'll be able deal greater amounts of raw damage to your opponents with lethal HP attacks. Moreover, collecting energy from randomly placed crystals will allow your team to call in your chosen Summon monster to the fight turning the flow of battle in your favor. Much of the previous game's RPG growth mechanics have been stripped out in favor of more static growth. Gameplay in Dissidia is entirely skill-based, with leveling only opening up alternate abilities and other supplementary options. Which places every player on a largely even playing field.

Battles are set in large arenas, so you'll constantly be on the move utilizing defensive maneuvers --along with support spells and buffs--to stay one step ahead of your rivals. Combat is mostly kept at a relentless pace, and when you're in the thick of it, the fighting system allows players to exhibit some rather clever strategies that reward those who can read their foe's next move and strike back. While this system may come off as bit a overwhelming for newcomers, the generous tutorial mode will put you through your paces to learn all the mechanics necessary to survive.

Materia's guardians face off against their rivals.

Moving away from the one-on-one duels, the new 3v3 format makes for more hectic battles. While these are fun to take part in most of the time, they often result in overly busy encounters with all fighters bunching up--made slightly worse by an overstuffed user-interface. The camera also struggles to keep up with the action, which is especially frustrating on the higher difficulties or during online play, with your enemies adopting a more cunning approach.

As you clear through battles and increase your player rank and character level, you'll acquire Gil for use in the item shop. While you can buy most of every item in-game with the currency--which includes character costumes, weapon skins, online card decals, player avatars, and background music--you can also find special treasure packages that yield a set of randomized rewards. Though rest assured, you can acquire every item on your own in-game with Gil, as there are no real-money microtransactions in the game whatsoever.

In keeping with its multiplayer focus, Dissidia NT now features an online experience which includes ranked matches and custom games tuned to your own preferences. When up against skilled players online, these matches can prove to be intense affairs that show off the complexity and strategy within the combat system. Unfortunately, simply waiting to take part in battles can be a chore. During the first week of the game's release online matchmaking took upwards of 3-5 minutes to get a battle going. Moreover, several of the matches were burdened with sudden lag spikes and skipping, resulting in some rather uneven and unreliable encounters. While most online battles turned out well, lag dips and long wait times were a common occurrence.

What's most disappointing is that in going headstrong into its competitive multiplayer angle, Dissidia NT doesn't offer much outside of it. If the online multiplayer and repeat excursions into the Gauntlet mode doesn't interest you in the long term, then you may find yourself with few reasons to proceed with the game's already repetitive offerings.

For all its attempts to honor Square-Enix's long-running series, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT stumbles far too often when trying to replicate some of the many core gameplay tenants of the series in the framework of its own game. While it manages to offer fun and responsive combat, along with an infectious charm throughout, it struggles to advance much from the previous Dissidia titles. With a story that's fed piecemeal behind arbitrary gating, several combat encounters that feel out of place, and unreliable online systems that don't function when you need them to, this online brawler isn't able to live up to the series that it steadfastly tries to celebrate.

Categories: Games

Upcoming Brawler Has An Unforgiving Twist

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 02/04/2018 - 20:06

Permadeath is often an integral part of roguelikes and modern indie games, mixing unforgiving gameplay with procedural level design. Developer Secret Base brings this widely used mechanic to its upcoming beat-em-up game, Streets of Red, in an especially unforgiving way.

When you die in Streets of Red, that's it. You don't have any second chances. Instead, you're forced to start all over from the beginning. Rather than grinding or leveling up, Streets of Red instead tests your skills and patience. This brawler brings the classic arcade experience home, without the ability to insert a quarter to continue. It may sound daunting, but it could also make a captivatingly tense game.

Streets of Red can be played through local co-op with friends, though it does not include online co-op. Watch the trailer below.

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Streets of Red releases for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 as of February 27.

Categories: Games

Keeping Your City Alive In A Harsh Winter

Game Informer News Feed - Sun, 02/04/2018 - 17:10

Frostpunk is a survival game that has tense decision-making and an oppressive tone, similar to the creators' previous game, This War of Mine. This time, however, these mechanics are applied to the city-building sim genre, where you build a society and attempt to keep your people alive through a harsh winter. 

Frostpunk's tough decisions bring about questions of morality. For example, would you let children work in the labor force if it increased your chances of survival? Will you treat the sick and wounded, despite having scarce resources? Would you allow robots to help ease the workload off of your human settlers, even if there's a chance these mechanical helpers are unsafe?

Developer 11 Bit Studios released a developer diary recently detailing automatons, which are steampunk-like robots that can help your settlement survive in many ways. They can work consistently without needing rest, and make life easier for your people. However, your society might have varying reactions to them, and concern could grow over whether they're safe to use or not. Watch the short video below to learn more.

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Frostpunk has an interesting setup that could make for a captivating experience. I'm looking forward to when it releases for PC at the end of March.

Categories: Games

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